VANCOUVER — After 10 seasons behind the Vancouver Giants’ bench, Don Hay is leaving the Western Hockey League team to return home to coach the Kamloops Blazers.
Giants majority owner Ron Toigo confirmed Hay’s departure and thanked him for putting his club on the junior hockey map. Hay was heading into the final year of his contract with Vancouver.
“I can’t say enough about what Don did for our franchise,” Toigo said late Thursday afternoon. “He delivered a Memorial Cup and a league championship. He gave us an identity. He created a culture of winning and we owe that all to Don.”
Hay, 60, is a Kamloops native and began his illustrious coaching career with the Blazers as an assistant in 1986. He eventually became Blazer head coach in 1992-93 and won back-to-back Memorial Cups, in 1994 and ’95.
After NHL stints with the Phoenix Coyotes and Calgary Flames, three years as an American League coach in Utah and other stops on the coaching carousel, Hay joined the Giants for the 2004-05 WHL season.
In his second year with Vancouver, the Giants captured the WHL championship. The following season, as host team, they won the Memorial Cup. Under Hay, the Giants won 40 or more games six times, including 57 victories in 2008-09.
According to Toigo, Blazer majority owner Tom Gaglardi recently approached him for permission to talk to Hay. One thing led to another and both sides agreed that Hay could move on.
“I’ve always made a point that I’m not going to stand in the way of what anybody wants to do regardless of what their contract says,” Toigo explained. “Don said he was comfortable with going home and they offered him a pretty good deal. I told him: ‘Great, I’m happy for you, I appreciate everything you did for us.’
“Ten years is a long time with one team and maybe it was time for a change for everybody. I think it’s a good scenario, although it kind of came out of left field. We certainly weren’t planning this a month ago.”
Toigo, minority owner Pat Quinn and GM Scott Bonner will now begin the search for a new head coach. Toigo indicated the successful candidate must have some head coaching experience, especially with the Giants’ stated intention to bid for the 2016 Memorial Cup.
“We’ll take some time to see where we go from here but we don’t have any (immediate) plans for Don’s replacement,” Toigo said. “I’m sure we’ll get lots of names coming at us and some we don’t expect. We’ll see who is interested and kind of take it from there. But there is no question it will be somebody with experience and someone who will be able to coach the type of team we’ve drafted over the last number of years.”
Hay was only the third coach in Giants’ history. Milan Dragicevic was behind the bench during the Giants’ inaugural season. Dean Evason then took over for the next two before Hay came on board.
Meanwhile, in Thursday’s bantam draft, the Giants selected a pair of forwards, Dawson Holt of Saskatoon and Brendan Semchuk of Kamloops, with their two first-round selections.
Holt, a centre, was chosen eighth overall while Semchuk, a winger, was taken in the 10th spot, using a pick obtained in a trade with the Saskatoon Blades. Holt is listed at 5-10 and Semchuk at 5-11.
The Giants then added defenceman Dylan Plouffe of Sherwood Park, Alta., and forwards Owen Hardy of Kelowna and James Malm of Langley with their three second-round selections.
In the third round, they opted for highly touted defenceman Max Gildon of Plano, Texas. It is uncertain whether Gildon will play major junior hockey, hence he dropped in the draft, but the Giants are crossing their fingers.
“If Gildon was committing to anybody, he was probably the first overall pick in the draft,” Toigo noted. “He’s an elite, elite defenceman. He is compared to Seth Jones. They are already saying he is going to be a star in the NHL. Next season, he’s going to play for the U.S. development team and we’ll see where he goes from there.”
The Giants also acquired defenceman Clayton Kirichenko, 18, in a trade with Saskatoon, surrendering a 2014 third-round pick and a fifth-rounder in 2016. In another deal, they re-acquired forward Matt Bellerive, who began his WHL career with the Giants, from the Blazers. They surrendered a sixth-round pick Thursday and a fourth rounder in 2015.
The Brandon Wheat Kings had the first overall selection and, as expected, they went for Winnipeg centre Stelio Mattheos, a 6-2 centre. North Shore Winter Club product Jordy Bellerive, younger brother of Matt, went second overall to the Lethbridge Hurricanes while another NSWC product, 5-10 defenceman Nolan Kneen, was chosen third by Kamloops.
A third member of the NSWC bantams, 5-7 centre Justin Almeida, went fifth overall to the Prince George Cougars.
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